When deciding on the necessity and aims of war, the first question to answer is whether the enemy’s government is outrightly criminal. An obvious example of a criminal government is the Nazi regime. Its raison d’etre was oppressing and preferably exterminating other peoples. Governments that conduct long-term genocidal operations which affect a significant part of their population, such as the Khmer Rouge, might arguably be considered criminal. Communist China doesn’t pass the test of substantiality: its 20-50 million dead do not constitute a significant proportion of the Chinese population. Muslim regimes, even Saddam’s, were not criminal. Ruthless, perhaps barbaric, but not criminal. Saddam suppressed the Kurdish rebellion, but did not purposely annihilate the Kurds. The change of regime was unwarranted.
At the very least, if the West has found Baathist regime unacceptable for humanitarian or foreign policy reasons, the invaders have no responsibility regarding a new Iraqi order. A person who stops a street robbery does not have to guard the victim on her way home. The “Do not harm your neighbor” rule could be strengthened into an ambiguous and costly “help your neighbor” in time of dire necessity, and only extreme situations would allow the rule to be expanded into “help others.” As soon as the extreme danger passes, it’s up to the victims to care of themselves. Help often brings unintended consequences—affirmative action or the well-intentioned US help to the Iraqi people included. The helper, however, need not rectify the negative consequences of his help, provided that they are less evil than the original problem. In the American democratic framework, the civil strife of the free Iraqi people might be a lesser evil than Saddam’s dictatorship. Not even 0.1 percent of the Iraqi population dies annually in the violence. A deaths toll so statistically minor should not concern outsiders.
The ambiguity of help in extreme situations is limited. The evil is clear, and the helpers mostly agree on how to counter it. In moderately dangerous situations, options are many. Should the US push for democracy or a benevolent authoritarian regime in Iraq? Should the Baathists be left in power to efficiently handle security, or a new major party should be developed from scratch? The alternatives are many, and they are not for the outsiders to decide. The locals’ choices might now be obvious. Sunni Iraqis won’t like a democracy that brings the Shia to power. Shia won’t like liberalism, but will opt for a somewhat religious society. Separatist Kurds detest Iraqi nationalism. The readjustments will be bloody, and will hardly bring the results envisaged by Washington planners. The only legitimate concern of the West is that the new Iraqi regime remains non-aggressive toward other countries.